The letter B has been bobbing around me for the past ten days or so. In fact, it really all began with the Sesame-Street-worthy activity of a child’s birthday party.
My great-niece in North Carolina reached the ripe, old age of 9, her last year in single digits! By all rights, there should have been some sort of a celebratory lollapalooza involving a princess or a rainbow or a bounce house.
Admittedly, I can be overwhelmed by the fabulosity of these newfangled parties, especially when compared to the birthdays of my childhood. In the Scott household there were no themed celebrations; we had to be satisfied with a birthday cake. No whining here; it was special enough to have ice cream and our favorite homemade cake decorated with the appropriate number of candles in varying heights – some new, some retrieved from prior birthday cakes – along with the requisite singing and wishing and blowing.
I also remember in the not-so-distant past that destination parties were popular for a while. Moms took twenty of their darling’s best friends to McDonald’s for the afternoon or to party with Chuck E. Cheese. I considered that party format a brilliant solution: no muss, no fuss, clean-up by someone else, somewhere else.
Then 2020 showed up on our calendars, and this nine-year-old was treated to the latest in b-day festivities: the birthday parade. Posted photos showed the new fourth-grader under an umbrella during a rainstorm – broadly smiling up a storm of her own!
It so happens this young lady’s birthday date coincided with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, when American women were finally free to participate in our nation’s governance by recording their preferences at the ballot box. The headline on August 18, 1920: WOMEN WIN RIGHT TO VOTE IN SUFFRAGETTE VICTORY! By the way, that was just ten days after my father was born.
I am always surprised anew when the math reminds me American women have had the vote for a mere 100 years – just long enough for some of us to take this vital right/privilege for granted, I fear. Such should never be the case, in view of the long struggle to make voting by female citizens the law of the land.
Women began organizing in 1848 and spent decades marching, protesting, lobbying, and sitting in jail to bring the issue to the attention of 19th century lawmakers. We have seen the old sepia-colored photos of determined American heroines such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony leading the charge, as Congress dithered and the nation slowly became accustomed to the concept that women have as much to say about the running of our nation as their male counterparts – and an equal right to say it.
In June of 1919, Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex…”
It was then up to the states to ratify the new amendment – Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio did so almost immediately. The ratification process, however, stretched into August of the next year, with attention eventually centered on Tennessee, the state that made history by becoming #36 to ratify.
Tennessee senators voted yes, but the Tennessee House found itself deadlocked. Harry Burn, an avowed anti-suffragist, nonetheless followed the advice of his strong-willed mother and cast the deciding vote to affirm.
Interestingly enough, individual states originally voting down ratification drew the process out for years, with belated votes in favor periodically occurring until the 1970s. In commemoration of the historic amendment, Donald Trump last week symbolically pardoned Susan B. Anthony for illegally voting in 1872. I did read the folks at the Susan B. Anthony Museum in Rochester, New York, have rejected the action, contending the pardon validated the illegal governmental process that judged her guilty in the first place.
In honor of it all and because I am more than concerned about issues surrounding the 2020 ballot box, I took the occasion to apply for my absentee ballot for November, completing the online form from the Champaign County Board of Elections website and submitting it by mail. Since it became difficult for me to walk and stand in line several years ago, I have been availing myself of this voting method and believe it should be available to all voters.
I absolutely resent the doubts about our country’s voting process and postal system being injected into the national dialog. As citizens, we must stand strong against these and all other forms of voter oppression. For my part, I will have my ballot hand-delivered to the Board of Elections as soon as possible after the early voting date of October 6.
My final B relates to the biography of Barbara Bush, which I just finished. Fully entitled The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty, it is a well-researched, beautifully written volume by Susan Page, who interviewed Mrs. Bush five times with full access to the former First Lady’s diaries and personal correspondence. I cried and I laughed and I cried again. Suffice it to say, I did not merely read the book, I experienced it. I give it my highest recommendation.
And now, dear readers, the letter B and I thank you for your kind attention …
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.